Soft skills for professional success

26 August 2020

Reaching out to alumni or potential mentors is also great to learn about soft skills that are really important in your industry, and to hear from someone who has built up their own successful career in that space

What are soft skills? Why do they matter? Why do employers increasingly look for candidates who display well-developed soft skills when hiring?

While our degrees or diplomas can equip us with the required technical knowledge and expertise, soft skills, or interpersonal skills, are the personal attributes that enable us to interact and engage effectively and harmoniously with others. 

According to LinkedIn Learning, the top 5 sought after soft-skills of 2020 are creativity, persuasion and negotiation, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence.

Employers value soft skills

Jemma Walker
Jemma Walker

Having the right mix of technical capability, soft skills and personal attributes is critical to individual, team and business success. However, more and more, employers are focussing on the value and importance of soft skills. In 2017 it was estimated Australian businesses spent $4 billion per year on training and development. Over the past few years, an increasing number of organisations have also incorporated soft skill capability into behavioural framework and performance review metrics, placing further importance on the value of soft skills.

According to Jemma Walker (BA ‘12), Executive Recruitment Consultant, Hudson Australia, soft skills can be just as important to employers as technical skills.

“Our clients often look for a solid mix of both – having the required technical skills does not always mean the candidate is the best person for the job,” said Jemma. “Soft skills like really connecting and communicating with stakeholders, other employees or clients are essential for the success of a team. Your negotiation skills, approach to problem solving and team mentality are what set you apart from others and allow you to become a collaborative and appreciated member of the team”.

Soft skills are as important to an employer as they are to an employee. They are what you bring to the table outside of checking the required skill boxes on a job description.

Soft skills sought across industries

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics Forecast predicted that soft-skill intensive occupations will account for 63% of all jobs by 2030, and will grow 2.5 times faster than other jobs. In addition, 10 of the 16 World Economic Forum’s “crucial proficiencies in the 21st century” were non-technical.

Across industries, there are certain soft skills that are valued by employers and recruiters. 

“The ability to effectively communicate to all levels of the business is highly regarded,” said Jemma. “Also critical thinking, problem solving, thinking outside the box, looking for ways to innovate and improve are becoming more and more important.”

While technical or ‘hard’ skills can change in an evolving market, soft skills are your unique abilities that could really stand out for an employer.

In today’s market

James Footit
James Footit

In today’s increasingly online work environment marked by a shift to remote working, soft skills are more critical than ever.

“Honest and clear communication, logical and critical thinking, confidence, taking initiative – these all help us to work better together, even if we are physically distant from our colleagues,” said Jemma. “Not physically being in the same office space means that these soft skills are what will enable us to work as a cohesive team.”

With the rise of data analytics and artificial intelligence, soft skills are also critical in ‘humanising’ data through storytelling.

James Footit (BComm ’19, Bsc (Psych) ’19), Graduate Consultant, Deloitte Consulting says, while analysing data involves technical skills, it is also important to be able to interpret, share, utilise and apply this information to a broader setting.

 “In a rapidly changing work environment, having these soft skills allows for adaptability and confidence to articulate key ideas and concepts,” said James.

Building soft skills 

Developing our soft skills is a continuous journey, involving self-reflection and building a learning mindset.

“It helps to reflect on the soft skills we’re already good at and be honest about the ones we need to address or improve,” said James. “This is where the learning mindset begins to grow. As you identify areas of improvement, your willingness to build upon these areas increases, which will only enhance your employability.”

Jemma advises joining focus groups, meet-up groups or online communities like LinkedIn or ANU alumni networks that align with your interests or career goals.

“Reaching out to alumni or potential mentors is also great to learn about soft skills that are really important in your industry, and to hear from someone who has built up their own successful career in that space,” said Jemma.

While building and developing soft skills is an ongoing process, online learning such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera and ANU Career Hub and ANU Careers consultations (ANU services available to graduates up to 12 months post-graduation) are a great place to explore new concepts and ideas for practical implementation. Honest, constructive feedback from a trusted advisor or source may also help to reflect and refine areas to leverage or for further development.

If you’re interested in learning more about the soft-skills employers are looking for, as well as tips to develop these key areas, keep an eye out on ANU Alumni Events or via our social media channels for our upcoming “Critical Soft Skills” webinar on Wednesday, 14 October.

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